Bridge over Skagit to open next week

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photoWorkers disassemble the front of the temporary bridge extension Monday, June 10, 2013 over the Skagit River on Interstate 5 on the southern end of the span. (AP Photo/Skagit Valley Herald, Scott Terrell)

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MOUNT VERNON (AP) -- State transportation officials say the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River should reopen sometime next week, after they finish installing a temporary span to replace the bridge that collapsed on May 23.

That will be a week too late for thousands of students returning home from Western Washington University after they finish their finals in Bellingham this week. Most of the university's students live south or east of the bridge.

The Washington State Department of Transportation plans to work day and night to meet its goal of getting the temporary span in place by mid-June.

On Monday, crews pushed the first of two temporary sections across the gap between the north and south sides of the Skagit River Bridge. They will spend the next several days positioning it over new concrete supports. Then they have to repeat the process on the other side.

"Getting to this point hasn't been easy," said Jay Drye, WSDOT assistant regional administrator, in a statement. "Each step of removing and replacing the damaged bridge span has to be carefully choreographed to maximize efficiency, speed and safety."

The temporary bridge is actually two connected 24-foot-wide spans being erected by the contractor, Acrow Bridges. The structure will be a total of 240 feet long for overlapping support and will restore two highway lanes in each direction.

Drye compared the experience to building a house because of all the elements that go into replacing the bridge.

A portion of the 58-year-old I-5 bridge over the Skagit River collapsed near Mount Vernon, after a tractor-trailer struck critical steel supports. This section of Washington's only north-south interstate carries an estimated 71,000 vehicles a day.

Although no one was killed or seriously injured when the bridge collapsed, Washington State Patrol Trooper Sean O'Connell was killed in detoured traffic in Conway on May 31 when his motorcycle collided with a truck.